Seven Steps to Patient Retention

By James V. Anderson, DMD

“An abundance mentality springs from internal security, not from external rankings, comparisons, opinions, possessions, or associations” Stephen R. Covey

Probably the biggest concern for dentists in practice is, “do I have enough patients?”

Comparing practice numbers with peers can set off the green-eyed monster of jealousy. If you realize that there are plenty of patients out there, you will be happy for the prospering dentist and learn from his/her success.

Practice management consultants will focus on the numbers of new patients, the average production garnered from each and whether the patient returns to the practice or not (retention). These are essential KPI’s for measuring a healthy practice; however,  taking the attention off the patient and thinking about the production numbers is costly. The focus on creating a “wow” or exceptional patient experience is lost in the minutia of numbers.

Let’s explore seven steps to focus on building patient retention:

1. What is your brand promise? Answer the following questions:

  • What makes you unique?
  • What can you offer your patients in the way of lasting connections?
  • Why should the patient choose your practice?

A brand is a product or service that distinguishes you publicly from others. How you want to be perceived is determined by interacting with patients and the community. Let’s say part of your brand is a “no wait” policy. You have perfected your scheduling to ensure patients do not wait more than five minutes to be seated. Alternatively, let’s say your brand promise is to get the patient’s dental claims paid within 30 days. This brand promise is a win-win for both the patient and the practice.

2. Are you pain-free? Patients hate dentistry because of pain, and they judge you by the amount they feel in your practice. Do you offer newer technology options to patients that make their visits as “pain-free” as possible?

3. Are you making the best impressions when the phone is answered?  The person who answers the phone is the “face of the practice” in building the first impression. Having the skills to build rapport and schedule an appointment don’t come naturally for most, and it is wise to have everyone trained in telephone finesse.

4. Do you ask your patients for referrals? Sometimes the perception of being busy in the dental office harms referrals. If you appear too busy, the patient may think that you don’t want any new patients.
Word of mouth referrals has always built the best practices. Ask your patients what they like most about your practice and why they choose to return. Tell your patients that you would love to see their family and friends.

5. Are your dental employees a team or staff?  Developing the best asset, your team is a commitment to making your practice abundant with new possibilities. The revolving door of turnover must be slowed and managed. When someone terminates, an “exit interview” is to give the proper attention as to why the worker quit and make changes to prevent loss in the future.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace: 2017 report, workers want to feel connected to their positions, the management, and the organization.

If today’s workplace does not offer the right career growth, salary, benefits, and culture, employees leave for greener pastures.

Patients form relationships of trust with the entire team, not just the dentist. The transition to the new employee must be treated with care to ensure the patients’ acceptance of the change.

6. Have you created a culture of caring and comfort for your patients? People don’t return to dental practices for the same reasons they don’t return to other businesses. The physical appeal, the feeling of comfort, the cleanliness, and the overall evidence of quality evident before any services are provided the consumer. Patients may not comprehend the value of the treatment, but they always remember how the experience made them feel.

7. Do you make your patients feel special? Sometimes it is the little things that keep patients coming back, year after year. A friendly greeting when they arrive and a sincere good-bye when they leave is easy to do. Take the time to connect.

If your practice has a mixture of generations show appreciation to all, not just the majority. If you employ a patient contact system, you can connect with your patients at any time. It isn’t difficult to cancel an appointment, but it is tough to break a relationship.

Make the patients’ experience the focus of all your practice goals and an abundance of patients that will stay with you forever will follow.


James Anderson, DMD was an entrepreneur before becoming a dentist. His leadership and business presentations offer dentists the essentials needed to achieve the practice and life of their dreams. His speaking programs help dentists realize their full practice potential by combining dental clinical skills with excellent business skills to create a profitable and enjoyable dental practice career.

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